Robin Leichenko, Irmelin Gram-Hanssen & Karen O’Brien: Teaching the “how” of transformation

Published by Sustainability Science, 2021

Cover of Sustainability Science


Robin Leichenko

Irmelin Gram-Hanssen

Karen O’Brien


College and university students are eager to engage with transformative solutions to the climate crisis, but often struggle to see openings or possibilities where they can leverage their actions and really “make a difference.” While climate change education often focuses on the physical dimensions of climate change and the evaluation of political, technological, and behavioral solutions, less attention has been directed to questions of how large-scale transformations to sustainability occur and how educators can help students to perceive an active role for themselves in these efforts. This paper describes an integrative learning process for teaching the “how” of transformation. This process, which we use in our undergraduate courses on climate change and society, combines the “Three Spheres” model of transformation with an active learning change experiment. A pilot assessment, conducted via student surveys and focus groups during spring semester 2020, indicated that the learning process: (1) increased the students’ understanding of transformation and their sense that transformative change is possible; (2) enhanced the students’ sense of their own agency and ability to make a difference; and, (3) helped students to articulate a role for themselves in processes of transformative change. These initial findings suggest that teaching the “how” of transformation is possible and that both understanding and experiential realization of the connection between individual and collective change are vital elements for student learning and engagement. While these early findings need to be replicated in other courses and educational settings, they offer promising indications about how universities and climate change educators can play a more prominent role in generating transformative change.

Read the article in Sustainability Science.

Published May 18, 2021 3:29 PM - Last modified May 18, 2021 3:29 PM